Why is CA seeing a coronavirus surge? We asked an expert 5 quick questions

SAN FRANCISCO -- This week's coronavirus news cycle has been dominated by headlines about a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in California.

While the numbers aren't as bad as they are in other states (we're looking at you, Arizona), they're startling nonetheless: Hospitalizations have increased 32% over the past 14 days and ICU hospitalizations are up 19%.

To help make sense of it all, ABC7's sister station KGO-TV in San Francisco asked contributor Dr. Alok Patel five questions about the latest COVID-19 trends.

Health officials around the state have blamed the recent surge on a number of factors: more testing, reopening businesses, large protests, an increase in family/social gatherings around holidays - to name a few. In your opinion, is any one of these situations especially dangerous for spreading COVID-19?

Any situation in which people are closely interacting increases the chances of person-to-person transmission, plain and simple. If people aren't wearing masks, are indoors, and/or spending a long period of time together, the risk only increases. The recent increases could be partially due to business reopening, protests, social gatherings and the added factor of people getting quarantine fatigue - many people aren't as careful as they should be. As of now, there is no clear data to show the protests directly causes the increase in cases but it's possible and we may have a more clear idea soon.

It's important to note, however, that even though contact tracers have traced positive cases to social gatherings, part of the recent surge in the Bay Area is also attributed to the outbreak at San Quentin Prison, cases in nursing homes, and workplace spread.

VIDEO: Dr. Alok Patel answers questions about surge in COVID-19 cases
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To help make sense of the recent coronavirus spike, we asked ABC7 News contributor Dr. Alok Patel five questions about the latest COVID-19 trends.



The California DPH has released a list of 15 counties on its coronavirus watch list for various reasons. What trends should we be paying attention to here to get a sense of whether things are getting better or worse where we live?

People should not only be paying attention to the total amount of coronavirus cases in their counties, they should also be paying attention to the positivity rates of the tests, in addition to the amount of people hospitalized. According to the World Health Organization, the positivity rate should be kept below 5%, with some officials citing 7 or 8%. The percentage of the tests which are positive is a more accurate way for people to see if the virus is spreading, in real-time.

(Note: California's statewide positivity rate is an average 5.7% over the last seven days, Gov. Gavin Newsom said on Friday.)

Which sector(s) of the economy/businesses do you think may have been allowed to reopen too quickly?

In some counties, I feel indoor businesses, including restaurants, gyms, and salons, opened too early. I worry about counties continuing with reopening plans even while showing an increase in coronavirus cases over the past two weeks. I think everyone, unanimously, agrees the economic impact of this pandemic is devastating. We all want businesses to reopen. Nonetheless, any business opening too quickly, ignoring county health guidelines, not enforcing physical distancing or mask-wearing, is putting themselves and their communities at risk.



What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding right now about the state of coronavirus transmission in California?

The biggest misunderstanding, based on what I've observed, is that the pandemic is over, or that it's slowing down. Even at the national level, people hear public health officials warning of a resurgence of cases alongside other national voices who wish to reopen the economy quickly and claim cases are increases only because of increased testing. Unfortunately, based on testing data, including the positivity rate and spikes nationwide, it's clear we're still in the first wave of this pandemic. With lifted restrictions may come false hope but people still need wear masks and physically distance whenever possible.

Another reason some Californians may feel optimistic is that the state was locked down early and people, for the most part, were compliant. All these efforts more than likely saved countless lives. Nonetheless, if we revert back to pre-pandemic habits too quickly, we could turn this state into a hotspot.

In which situations should you absolutely wear a mask and when is it more optional?

In any situation where you could potentially be near other people, or share a similar space, you should be wearing a mask, even outdoors. Obviously, if you're hiking or clearly isolated outdoors, i.e in your backyard, it's ok to take your mask off. This is general guidance for everyone - not just those who are high risk. Even young people or anyone who feels they are low risk can still get infected and spread the disease to others who are more vulnerable.

(Note: Some cities and counties have stricter mask orders than the state of California. Check your local health orders to know when you're required by law to wear a mask.)
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